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S06.E19: Prison Labor

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Ah...this episode would have been more interesting if I hadn't just recently Ava Duvenay's documentary, which points out how the prison system had from day one by used to keep black people in chains and as slaves after the Civil War. And how the ways to do that have changed and shifted, but, well, the result was the same.

Also, Ana had a segment about how inmates are used as fire fighters but aren't able to work as fire fighters once they leave prison, and how them being around is undermining the job market for trained fire fighters (because why should you pay for someone who knows how to do the job if you can risk the live of inmates for free.

But I guess it is good to see this discussed on a larger and more accessible platform. And the part with the bull games...what the hell? It's like they are used as Gladiators.

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Can we play Oliver's opening commentary on the shootings on a loop on any and all media outlets possible going forward until it sinks in for everyone? He's spot on. 

As for the "Only in the panhandle can you say that" comment in that clip, suffice to say there aren't enough swear words out there to appropriately convey my response to that. Christ. 

Regarding the prison segment, it wasn't addressed in the episode, but there's also the issue that some criminals are ordered, as part of their punishment, to pay the victims and/or their families a particular sum for distress or injury or things of that sort. I don't know how much of that payment comes directly from the prisoners and how much, if any, comes from some other means (let alone how much of that money the family even winds up ever seeing in the end), so anyone here who does know more about that, feel free to jump in and educate me where needed. But those cheap wages certainly don't seem nearly sufficient enough to help with that repayment the way they should. 

The bit about the feminine products was embarrassing. Yet another example of why we desperately need to have more women running and being involved in things (also, to the guys getting all squeamish about the topic of sanitary products and such, you're adults, for cripes' sakes, please grow the hell up already). 

And regarding family members' visits to prisons, I've seen shows where people have talked about having to drive a number of hours to the prison where their loved one is being held, which doesn't help their financial situation, either. To say nothing of how hard it would be, depending on the job, for some people to take time off work to make that trip in the first place. 

36 minutes ago, swanpride said:

Also, Ana had a segment about how inmates are used as fire fighters but aren't able to work as fire fighters once they leave prison, and how them being around is undermining the job market for trained fire fighters (because why should you pay for someone who knows how to do the job if you can risk the live of inmates for free.

Also a valid point. I'll have to seek out that documentary. 

2 hours ago, PrincessPurrsALot said:

Fluff the former kitten is no more.  😞

That segment was truly something :D. As was the bit about the raccoons (and I loved the title for that segment as well :p). I'm trying to figure out how one mistakes a raccoon for a tiger. 

Edited by Annber03
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One has to keep in mind that the prison director of Shawshank's Redemption didn't make his personal money off the prison labour directly, that went into the running of the prison. He made it by taking money from other business in exchange for saying that his prisoners were "not available" for certain contracts, so that they had a chance to even stay in business. It is always worth remembering that prison labour is undermining the job market UNLESS the prisoners get exactly the same salary someone on the outside would get.

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I’m glad I padded the DVR recording time. The shootings should invoke some empathy from the current president, but that ain’t happening. John making fun of his own topics was a nice touch.

I knew about the bull poker (or whatever it is called) from Rick Reilly’s book about “dumb” sports, and I knew inmates were the ones at the table. Basically, they sit down an pretend to play poker. If a guy gets up or the bull knocks him out, he’s eliminated. Yeah, it’s sad that society is six steps away from Deadman Wonderland (#animereference), and it’s not going to be on ESPN’s “The Ocho” block this week.

Is Shepherd Smith supposed to be the sane one at Fox News?

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8 hours ago, Annber03 said:

As for the "Only in the panhandle can you say that" comment in that clip, suffice to say there aren't enough swear words out there to appropriately convey my response to that.

I don't know if Trump's lame glib comment was worse or the mob laughing about the guy who yelled out in the first place. 

I am very interested in what turnip subsidies are.

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I never really thought about prison labor much, so I appreciated this story. I knew from prison movies/TV shows that prisoners have to buy stuff from the prison store, but I didn't think too much about where the money came from. The biggest thing I learned that pissed me off was that J-Pay charges like 45% for family to put money in their loved ones' accounts. 

The companies that require prisons to eliminate face-to-face visits are terrible, too. 

Convict poker was head-shaking. (and probably bone-breaking)

I liked John's opening segment. The self-mocking of possible stories on the show, like turnip subsidies, was pretty funny. The calling out of Trump's complicity in this latest round of violence was spot-on.

So You Think You Can Romney cracked me up. I also liked "Well, that was some booing there" and the graphic of the book "The Problem of Periods".

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7 hours ago, Lantern7 said:

Is Shepherd Smith supposed to be the sane one at Fox News?

Aw, don't pick on Shep.  He really is the only beacon of light over there, and anyone who can reference kittens on a regular basis is a purrfectly stellar human being.

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The thing with the periods was angering me on so many levels. For starters, there shouldn't be ANY need for ANY prisoner to pay for basic sanitary products. Honestly, didn't we just learn that even the Taliban gave their prisoners soap? Those people are in the custody of the state and the state is responsible to ensure that they stay healthy. Ensuring that they have sanitary products is really the most basic they should do. Are they rationalising toilet paper, too? I wouldn't be surprised if they do.....

Second, the whole thing with the doctors appointment. WTH? Just give them what they need. What, are they worried that they smoke the pads?

And third, the way this guy reacted to having to hear about something as basic as a period. I mean, yeah, I don't exactly like to discussing it with men either, but it is still a very basic process and there is no reason to be particularly squeamish about this topic. What, does this guy think that girls have cooties or what? The woman had more reason to be nervous, considering that she had to talk to a bunch of strangers and in front of cameras about something which is usually treated as a private matter, and she was very matter of fact.

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There is a lot to the subject of prison labor. But I am surprised that John didn't mention Unicor, the outfit that manages labor for federal inmates. In recent years they have been trying to market prison labor to for profit companies, leading to this testimonial


We would receive services from an onshore agent — a US citizen — but at offshore prices. It’s a win-win for everyone involved

Uh, I can think of one party that doesn't win.

John: "I am shocked that the man who chose that haircut. . ."

Me: I'm pretty sure he bought that haircut.

Bull poker is straight out of gladiatorial Rome. Compel inmates with the (largely illusionary) prospect of freedom to engage in a dangerous activity for the entertainment of the masses. 

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Are they rationalising toilet paper, too? I wouldn't be surprised if they do.....

A bit of personal historical perspective on prisons and toilet paper:

I grew up a few miles south of Attica NY and attended high school there.  The prison riots there (Kids, ask your grandparents. Or Wikipedia) started the day before I left for college.   I was a fairly naive at the time and couldn't believe that my many neighbors and classmate's relatives who worked at the prison could be the least bit racist or cruel or abusive, and believed that every inmate deserved to be imprisoned.  Then I read in the newspaper that included in the inmates list of demands was, yup, toilet paper.

I mark my reading that as a pivotal moment in my evolution from fairly conservative little goody two-shoes to nasty woman.

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I never fail to be impressed by just how innovative and creative Americans are when it comes to exploiting the fuck out of anyone less powerful or wealthy than themselves. Of course slavery still exists, and of course heartless arseholes will lament about "letting the good workers" out of jail as though being diligent and playing by the rules isn't a reason to release those people.

This is what rampant, unregulated and uncontrolled capitalism does. It assigns a value to everything, including human life, and the cheapest bid wins.

John's comments on gun violence in America were really good, and summed up the realities if the situation. The problem is, no matter how much previous mass shootings hurt, nothing got done. Just last year we all watched kids organise a march attended by tens of thousands, and show everyone just how much they were hurt, and nothing happened. There will be talk again about how "this time it's different", but nothing will happen. And after the next mass shooting, nothing will happen.

Because there is a deadlock in American politics and culture that simply won't shift. Until enough people love fellow humans more than they love guns.

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From everyone's comments here, it seems John spoke about gun violence at some point in the show? If so, that part wasn't broadcast in Australia (where I am). I wonder if it was added at the last minute and didn't make it onto the version we saw here.

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John Oliver on the shootings

John spoke about the shootings before his show started.  Above is a link to CNN.com which summarized what he so powerfully said.

And, you know, there are so many mass shootings... survivors of the Vegas shooting have been in second mass shooting situations, both California a week or so ago and last year in that country bar in northern California.

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3 hours ago, DEL901 said:

And, you know, there are so many mass shootings... survivors of the Vegas shooting have been in second mass shooting situations, both California a week or so ago and last year in that country bar in northern California.

Seriously, we should highlight that disturbing fact more often, too. We're at the point where people run the risk of finding themselves caught up in multiple mass shootings in this country. 

But nope. No problem here. Nah. 

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I liked how this, like in a lot of episodes John finds ways that things that you think are pretty straight forward are actually kind of fucked (you know like turnip subsidies). I mean because as a straight forward thing prison labour is something i am not really sure I have a problem with prison labour, what with it being a paying your debt to society thing. As long as it is something that benefits society, not some garbage wherw prisoners work in a call centre for a for profit company.

That said even if that is the case, doing shit like making prisoners pay for necessary hygiene supplies, or overcharging them for phone calls or money transfer through a company that make a profit off of it is some grade-a bullshit when they are making cents an hour. And charging for a doctor is kind of stupid but charging anyone for a doctor's visit is stupid.

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Honestly, the whole Prison Labor aspect is for me less about "giving back to society" - it's a silly notion anyway. Because either the criminal has killed/hurt someone, than nothing what he does will change what he did, or he is a thief, in which case his victims won't get anything out of them working a low paid or not paid at all job. If there is some sort of situation in which the criminal pays for damages, it would be better for the victim if said person is actually earning proper money.

No, for me there are three reasons for prisoners to have jobs:

1. If they are related to the everyday running of the prison it helps to keep the cost of their own incarnation down - plus, free people also clean their own rooms and do their own laundry.

2. It keeps them busy - and if they are busy, it helps to get rid of boredom and aggression

3. It can help to prepare them for time after prison - if they manage to save some money or acquire some useful skills, it will provide them a better start and hence a better chance of rehabilitation.

Plus, it's also better for the families. They shouldn't be forced to literally pay for a crime someone else committed. It's hard enough on them already.

Honestly, the only way prisoners should be "giving back to society" is by working on themselves so that they will use their second chance the day they get released - provided that they are guilty in the first place, which is not a given in the US prison system at all.

And in a way, it is not the prisoners who owe society something, it is society which owes them something. Because at the end of a day, every criminal is someone who has been failed by society at one point. That doesn't mean they aren't responsible for their actions too, but just like society is responsible for the ill and the poor, we are also responsible for whoever we decide we have to take away their freedom from. The least society can do is to ensure that said people are provided with basic care. And that includes phone calls and hygiene products.

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Thirty years ago, a young man in my mother’s church was sentenced to life in prison for killing his sister’s ex-husband.  The circumstances included the ex’s threat that, on the children’s visitation appointment, the ex had threatened to take the kids and drown them in a nearby lake - the guy had an awful history of violence previously. 

The young man was the uncle to these kids.  He blew the ex’s head off with a gun.  I understand the ex’s tongue lay on the street from the blast.

Because the threat had been made and not acted on, the young man got a life sentence for homicide.

Several years later, his mother passed away.  The young man had been sent to a State prison far from home.  No visitation as she died; no release to go to her funeral.  I found out recently it was because the family did not have the money to pay for the guards that would need to accompany him.

His sister died last week from complications of kidney failure and diabetes.  Pretty sure he didn’t get to attend that funeral either.

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14 hours ago, swanpride said:

that's so sad...are at least the children okay? It would be too bad if his sacrifice was for nothing.

The children were safe, in fact, it was one of the children that announced her mother’s passing.  Sadly, because the guy only verbally threatened, the kids had no need of legal protection.  That is why the young man got life.

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The punishment is really overblown….Under circumstances like this at the very least he would have gotten the lowest punishment possible in Germany and would most likely be out on parole by now unless the psychologist would think that he would murder again.

There was even once a case in which a woman get away Scott Free for killing her husband, even though she planned it. But he had terrorized and threatened her for years, and had said that he would kill her if she left, so it was considered as self-defence even though he didn't attack her on the day of the murder.

In this case...since his reasons weren't money or something like this, it wold most likely considered Manslaughter, provided he wasn't particularly cruel when committing the murder, the fact that the one killed threatened someone close to him, the punishment could be anything between one and ten years. If he was under 21 he might have even still be judged as a youth instead of an adult.

I honestly don't see the point of imprisoning someone that long under such circumstances, unless said person already had a history of violence beforehand. And even then said person would have been up for parole several times by now, with psychologists making recommendations if he can be trusted not to murder again.

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